ASSISTED SUICIDE: Study Shows It Would Save Little
The savings generated from allowing terminally ill patients to hasten their deaths with the help of a doctor would be "very small," according to a study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine. Conducted by two scientists on opposing sides of the physician-assisted suicide debate, the analysis found that "less than 0.1% of both total health care spending in the United States and an individual managed care plan's budget" would be saved if assisted suicide were legalized nationwide (Emanuel/Battin, 7/16 issue).
Just Like The Dutch
The AP/Reuters/Washington Post reports that Ezekiel Emanuel, "a Harvard Medical School ethicist who opposed physician-assisted suicide," and Margaret Battin, "a University of Utah ethicist who favors it," based their analysis on data from the Netherlands where assisted suicide is "legal and routine." If Americans chose this option at the same rate as the Dutch, it would account for an estimated 62,000 U.S. deaths each year. Emanuel and Battin found that patients who choose assisted suicide "forgo an average of four weeks of life," thus saving about $10,118 -- the average medical cost of the "last month of life for those who die naturally." They project that this would produce savings of $627 million annually in America, "less than 0.07% of U.S. health care costs" (7/16).
Emanuel and Battin conclude: "Considering the small fraction of Americans who would choose physician-assisted suicide, the small fraction of life they would forgo, and the small fraction of total health care expenditures associated with their care, the savings that would result from the legalization of physician-assisted suicide represent a very small fraction of total health care expenditures." The authors said they conducted their analysis because they believe "the claims of cost savings distort the debate" surrounding the controversial topic (NEJM, 7/16 issue). But USA Today reports that Daniel Callahan, a bioethicist at the Garrison, NY-based Hastings Center, said the savings projected in the study "are hardly trivial." Six hundred million dollars is not "dramatic savings," but it "is not chicken feed," Callahan said (7/16).